“We need to stop turning people into icons” – that’s a statement a friend of mine made on Facebook recently with regard to the outrage and disbelief experienced by many Ani DiFranco fans after the feminist folk singer announced that she’d be hosting her upcoming feminist songwriting retreat in Louisiana on the grounds of what was once a cotton plantation.
My friend didn’t elaborate much on her statement about icons, but her words reminded me of the importance of not elevating a person to an idol-like status. Humans are imperfect. They will screw up and when they do you could become disillusioned with everything they represent. This happens in churches all the time when parishioners begin to idolize their pastors. The pastor cheats on his wife and then young members of the congregation turn their backs on Christianity.
I am a huge Ani DiFranco fan. She's even part of the inspiration for the name of this blog. I started calling myself “Writeous Babe” not only as a play on the old phrase “That’s one righteous babe” but also as a nod to DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. Ani’s lyrics have helped me define my feminism. But I can honestly say I've never elevated her to any sort of idol status. I disagree with her on plenty of issues ranging from makeup to religion. But I've mastered the art of being able to accept and even admire something or someone in spite of disagreements. I had to -- I'm a black liberal Christian feminist who lives in (and loves) the South.
Nonetheless, I was one of those people disappointed by Ani. I initially gave her the benefit of doubt. I live in the South and I know that down here it's pretty difficult to find a building that wasn't built on the backs of black folks. Also, I've visited plantations as a teenager and the groups with which I took these trips managed to transform the visits into an opportunity to honor the slaves who had once lived there. We did research on the black people who worked those very grounds and paid homage to them. I remember one moment standing in silence in a wooded area surrounding a plantation and thinking about how terrifying it would be to run away into the unknown and how brave the men and women who did that had to have been. These experiences brought me to tears and made me appreciate my freedom in a way that no history class ever could.
Unfortunately, Ani's released statement revealed that there were no formal plans to acknowledge the history of Nottoway Plantation. She just hoped the conversations would "emerge organically."
So, yes, as an Ani fan, I am very disappointed. But I'm not disillusioned with feminism because while I admire Ani she's not my feminist icon.
Thinking about this I began to wonder -- do I have a feminist icon?
I realized I do not. At least not yet.
I'm currently in the process of making Jesus my feminist icon. Let me explain.
I’ve identified as a Christian nearly all my life and for the past decade I’ve identified as a feminist as well. And for the past ten years reconciling these two parts of myself has been a constant struggle. And I’m tired. Sarah Bessey, author of the book Jesus Feminist, says Jesus made a feminist out of her. I can make no such claims, but I wish I could. No longer do I want to be a feminist in spite of my Christianity, I want to be a feminist because of my faith.
I said that Ani was part of the inspiration for the name of this blog. But I also decided to play on the word righteous because of the dictionary definition of the term – “morally good; following religious or moral laws.”
I don’t just want to be “writeous,” I want to be righteous too. I want my actions and my words to be pleasing in God’s sight.
I want to be a Jesus feminist.
No, we shouldn’t make people our icons because they will mess up. But we can put our trust in God.
And if you’re not sure why Jesus should be a feminist icon, I leave you with these words by Dorothy Day:
Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there has never been another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronies; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.